Archive for July, 2011

The Promise of a Better Life

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Last month the nation took notice when Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas announced in the The New York Times Magazine that he had been living in the U.S. illegally since the age of 12.  As a follow-up to that article he was interviewed by Terry Gross of NPR’s Fresh Air yesterday; an interview that I listened to with rapt attention.

Of all that was fascinating about Vargas’ story, the element that most captivated me was the one that I felt was most overlooked – the circumstances under which he left his home country.  In his NYT piece Vargas describes it this way:

One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

In the NPR interview Vargas elaborated that he has never left the U.S. since his arrival here in 1993, and has not seen his mother since the day he left her.  He commented that he understood from a very young age that his future lay in America; that he did not know how or when that future might begin, only that some day it would.

But back to his departure from the Philippines.  I cannot fathom it.  For starters, having been lucky enough to be born in a developed nation, much less into a happy, educated, and stable family, I cannot entirely wrap my head around what it must be like to grow up knowing that everything around you is something you’re trying to escape.  Further still, I cannot imagine, at the age of 12 – old enough to understand the magnitude of what’s happening, yet not old enough to control any of it – being shipped off with a stranger with no prior warning and very little explanation.  And yet the way Vargas tells it, this was not by any means the most poignant moment of his journey as an illegal immigrant.  But I would imagine that this kind of thing happens all the time.

The promise of a better life, that’s what motivates these often-heart-wrenching stories.  Vargas beat the odds – most illegal immigrants do not go on to work for the Washington Post, the New Yorker, and the New York Times.  (Even the most advantaged journalists struggle to compete for those jobs.)  But in spite of the odds of any notable success being slim, those odds are perceived as an improvement over a person’s status quo.

So I wonder, does the promise of that better life offer enough hope to assuage the pain of being ripped from your mother at the dawn of your adolescence?  Are those wounds that can ever heal?  In his NPR interview Vargas didn’t speak about there being wounds there at all (which isn’t to say that they aren’t there and were perhaps just too personal to discuss, or simply not the point of his story).  But if this story were mine I can only imagine that that August morning in 1993 would be a pivotal moment in my experience, rather than merely the introduction.

I wonder if he thinks it was worth it.  I wonder if the promise of a better life – a promise which for Vargas was actually realized – was enough to offset what had to have been a traumatic moment.  Even more so I wonder about the people who do not end up as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists – the people who end up picking fruit or cleaning hotel rooms.  For those people was that promise, which America maybe didn’t make good on, enough to soothe the loss of what they left behind?

He Knows

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Every morning GAP gets up first.  The dogs follow him out of our bedroom, wait while he gets IEP from his crib, and then the lot of them go downstairs to kick off the day.  About 10 minutes later I roll out of bed, go through my morning oblutions, and join them in the sunroom.  This is how it works… unless I’m pregnant.  There’s one wrinkle in the routine when I’m pregnant, because Scout knows.

The morning routine has been the same for several years now.  So I found it curious during my first pregnancy when, near the end of my first trimester, Scout stopped going downstairs with GAP in the morning.  He would go across the hall to the study, lie down, and wait for me to get up.  When I emerged he would greet me eagerly, then lie back down and wait for me to get ready to head downstairs.  He did this every single morning until IEP was born.

This time around he’s been a little slower to realize that I’m pregnant, and a bit more inconsistent in his attentiveness.  I think it probably has something to do with his protective instincts toward IEP and the fact that he can’t be in two places at once.  But sometime in the past couple of weeks he figured it out, and most mornings I get out of bed to discover that he is either waiting for me in the study, or hasn’t even left the bedroom at all.

Apparently, while there is no scientific evidence of dogs’ ability to discern pregnancy, there is voluminous anecdotal support.  Dogs are keenly aware of our body language, routines, and scents.  And all of these things change to some extent during a pregnancy.

Scout is the best, sweetest, most obedient, and gentlest dog I’ve ever known (and I grew up with dogs).  When we have overnight company Scout doesn’t follow us upstairs at night, but goes down to the guest room in the basement and spends the night with our guests.  When he was about three years old he found a burrow of days-old baby bunnies in our yard.  He checked on them daily (we assumed he was after a furry snack), and when they were old enough to venture out of their hole he lay down on the patio, making himself as small as a hundred-pound dog can, and gently played with them, never once pouncing or snapping.  We have it on video.  At six months old IEP pulled on Scout’s cheeks and ears regularly and Scout just lay there.  He walks at your side without a leash.  And when I am pregnant he stays close, making sure that I’m okay.

Taking a step back, maybe it’s not all that amazing that dogs can sense pregnancy.  They are highly social animals and highly attuned to their masters.  But even after having him in our family for five years now, sometimes Scout still awes me.  GAP and I have long said that Scout is the best dog we’ll ever have.  Perhaps it’s because he was our first, but even setting that bias aside, it will be hard for any other dog to live up to the example he’s set.

Every morning, until Baby #2 is born, Scout will stick close by my side.  And I won’t take it for granted even for a moment.

Trapped in 1947

Friday, July 1st, 2011

We are supposed to be enlightened people by now.  We are a developed nation.  We have safe drinking water and women are allowed to drive cars.  We have an Equal Rights Ammendment.  And we’ve been through multiple iterations of the feminist movement.  So, why, then, do 40% of Americans prefer to have male children when only 26% perfer to have female children?

The article that informed me of this surprising imbalance also mentioned that Gallup has polled Americans on this topic since 1941 with little variation in the results.  The 2011 results were virtually identical to the results from 1947.  It goes into an exploration of international gender politics – India and Asia specifically.  But those biases don’t interest me nearly enough since there are deep rooted cultural preferences for boys that reach back centuries.  It is the disparity here in America where such prejudices shouldn’t be so socially acceptable that makes me wonder.

When I was pregnant with IEP I was reluctant to admit any gender preference.  As one of two sisters, had I been forced to choose I suppose I would have picked a daughter, merely because I was completely unfamiliar with anything to do with little boys.  It was definitely a weakly formed preference.  At the beginning of this pregnancy I found myself hugely ambivalent about the baby’s sex.  I have loved every truck, train, and football that was brought into my life via IEP, and another son would (and will!) mean even more of the boy-natured fun that has become so dear to me.  But a daughter would have been a whole new adventure – someone whose hair I could braid and whom I could have chatty lunch dates with as she got older.  There were exciting aspects to either outcome and I truly didn’t have a preference.

But clearly I’m in the minority here.  Sixty-six percent of Americans have a stated preference.  And I suppose it’s not surprising that so many people would have an opinion in the matter, as it is that those opinions are not more evenly distributed.  I don’t have particular insight into this little phenomenon.  I just find it curious and wonder if anyone else out there has ideas as to the provenance of this unwavering trend.